Women Rulers of England and Great Britain

England and Great Britain have had a few reigning queens when the crown had no male heirs (Great Britain has had primogeniture through its history—inheritance by the oldest son took precedence over any daughters). These women rulers include some of the best-known, longest-reigning and culturally most successful rulers in British history.  Included: several women who claimed the crown, but whose claim was disputed.

Empress Matilda, Lady of the English (1141, never crowned)

Empress Matilda, Countess of Anjou, Lady of the English
Empress Matilda, Countess of Anjou, Lady of the English. Hulton Archive / Culture Club / Getty Images

August 5, 1102 - September 10, 1167
Holy Roman Empress: 1114 - 1125
Lady of the English: 1141 (disputed with King Stephen)

Widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, Matilda was named by her father, Henry I of England, as his successor. She fought a long war of succession with her cousin, Stephen, who seized the throne before Matilda could be crowned.

Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey. Hulton Archive / The Print Collector / Getty Images

October 1537 - February 12, 1554
Queen of England and Ireland (disputed): July 10, 1553 - July 19, 1553

The reluctant nine-day queen of England, Lady Jane Grey was supported by the Protestant party to follow Edward VI, to try to prevent the Roman Catholic Mary from taking the throne. She was a great-granddaughter of Henry VII.  Mary I deposed her, and had her executed in 1554

Mary I (Mary Tudor)

Mary I of England, from a portrait by Anthonio Mor, about 1553
Mary I of England, from a portrait by Anthonio Mor, about 1553. Hulton Archive / Hulton Royals Collection / Getty Images

February 18, 1516 - November 17, 1558
Queen of England and Ireland: July 1553 - November 17, 1558
Coronation: October 1, 1553

Daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Mary attempted to restore Roman Catholicism in England during her reign. The execution of Protestants as heretics earned her the sobriquet "Bloody Mary."  She succeeded her brother, Edward VI, after removing Lady Jane Grey whom the Protestant party had declared queen.

Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I with crown, sceptre
Queen Elizabeth I in the dress, crown, sceptre worn when she thanked her Navy for the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Hulton Archive / Getty Image

September 9, 1533 - March 24, 1603​
Queen of England and Ireland: November 17, 1558 - March 24, 1603
Coronation: January 15, 1559

Known as Queen Bess or the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I ruled at a key time in England's history, and is one of the most-remembered British rulers, male or female

Mary II

Mary II
Mary II, from a painting by an unknown artist. National Galleries of Scotland / Hulton Fine Art Collection / Getty Images

April 30, 1662 - December 28, 1694
Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland: February 13, 1689 - December 28, 1694
Coronation: April 11, 1689

Mary II assumed the throne as co-ruler with her husband when it was feared that her father would restore Roman Catholicism. Mary II died childless in 1694 of smallpox, only 32 years old. Her husband William III and II ruled after her death, passing the crown to Mary's sister Anne when he died.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne in her coronation robes
Queen Anne in her coronation robes. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

February 6, 1665 - August 1, 1714
Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland: March 8, 1702 - May 1, 1707
Coronation: April 23, 1702
Queen of Great Britain and Ireland: May 1 1707 - August 1, 1714

Sister of Mary II, Anne succeeded to the throne when her brother-in-law William III died in 1702. She was married to Prince George of Denmark, and though she was pregnant 18 times, she had only one child who survived infancy. That son died in 1700, and in 1701, she agreed to designate as her successors the Protestant descendants of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England, known as the Hanoverians. As queen, she's known for the influence over her of her friend, Sarah Churchill, and for involving the British in the War of the Spanish Succession. She was associated in British politics with the Tories rather than their opponents, the Whigs, and her reign saw the power of the Crown significantly reduced.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria on throne in her coronation robes, wearing British crown, holding the sceptre
Queen Victoria on throne in her coronation robes, wearing British crown, holding the sceptre. Hulton Archive / Ann Ronan Pictures / Print Collector / Getty Images

May 24, 1819 - January 22, 1901
Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: June 20, 1837 - January 22, 1901
Coronation: June 28, 1838
Empress of India: May 1, 1876 - January 22, 1901

Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom was the longest-ruling monarch of Great Britain. She ruled during a time of economic and imperial ​expansion, and gave her name to the Victorian Era. She married a cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, when they were both seventeen years old, and had seven children before his death in 1861 sent her into a long mourning period.

Queen Elizabeth II

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953. Hulton Royals Collection / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

April 21, 1926 -
Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms: February 6, 1952 - 

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was born in 1926, eldest child of Prince Albert, who became King George VI when his brother abdicated the crown. She married Philip, a Greek and Danish prince, in 1947, and they had four children. She succeeded to the crown in 1952, with a formal and much-viewed televised coronation. Elizabeth's reign has been marked by the British Empire becoming the British Commonwealth, and a gradual further diminishment of the official role and power of the royal family amid scandal and divorce in her children's families.   

The Future of Reigning Queens

Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Crown
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Crown: made in 1661 for coronation of Charles II. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Although the next three generations in line for the U.K. crown—Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George—are all males, the United Kingdom is changing its laws, and a firstborn female heir will, in the future, be ahead of her later-born brothers.